Monday, December 14, 2009

Wait - what??

As you can see, it's been more than two months since I've blogged, and what's funny is that I really haven't missed it all that much. That said, it may be time to get out and drop a few insights on the world; also, I owe you, my readers, some promised posts (such as my guide to going Rim-River-Rim in the Grand Canyon in one day, NPS advice notwithstanding).

In my dedication to remaining logical and centrist, I'm finding plenty to criticize in the current scheme. Since I ripped conservatives pretty consistently in the runup and aftermath of the Obama election, you might think that I'd be in hog heaven right now. But I'm not, not that I expected much else (I'm actually pretty amused at the liberals who thought the system would change overnight, ignoring that Obama is a successful product of that very system, and apparently believes that tweaks are preferable to revolution).

But what really amuses me on either side of the political dichotomy is the raging inconsistency that people demonstrate. Let's just take one example from last month. Ezra Klein is a young man who writes for the Washington Post, and has taken a special interest in health care. A lot of what he writes is insightful and informative, and I recommend following him.

However, he can fall plague to the seduction of utopia. A favorite staple of people who want to advance some controversial notion is to let the states experiment with alternatives, at which point we can pick the best one for the country as a whole. This argument ignores differing situations - does the Massachusetts health care program, and we'll stipulate that it's been a success, really apply to Hawaii, Texas, and North Dakota? I can't say, but neither can anyone else.

But here's Klein on November 17:
Medicaid should be federalized, but so too should a lot more of school spending, along the line Matthew Miller has argued for. And these would both be good policies even outside of the context of state budgeting, as leaving school funding to local communities is a recipe for wild inequality and inconsistent standards, while leaving Medicaid eligibility to the states has left America with 51 different Medicaid programs with 51 different eligibility schemes and very little coherence.
I'm sorry, but why hasn't one really good Medicaid idea come to dominate others? You can't argue that the states can be used as laboratories for policy alternatives if real-world examples are hard to come by. I suspect we're seeing path dependence and special interests as impediments to change, and that's why I'm always mightily suspicious when anyone's pet theory is advanced as a candidate for dispersion. It's very possible that some new method of education, no matter how successful, will not be adopted wholesale by lesser-performing school districts. In the end, it will all come down to some kind of central coercion, and I don't have the sense that the United States is all that happy with that idea.

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